Phil Lötter is the CEO and Founder of Piilo Group and is a thought leader on the topics of leadership, business change and transformation. In this interview, he shares insights with The Industry Leaders about how to navigate uncertainty as a business leader.
Could you please share a bit about yourself, your background, and the journey that has led you to become an entrepreneur? What makes your perspective unique on the subject of leadership and navigating uncertainty?
I started my career as a lecturer in Economics. I then joined Accenture as a business consultant focused on change and strategy and left after 7 years to start my first business focused on business change and transformation of large organizations. After a few years, I started other businesses. The latest is an ecommerce marketplace that we are launching first in North America. I think my perspective is from both an entrepreneur but also a business consultant helping clients navigate uncertainty when embarking on business change and transformation programs.
You and your business have presumably faced some interesting challenges and changes over the years. Can you describe a key moment when you felt uncertainty was at its peak?
Definitely the covid epidemic. Most businesses had to either reinvent their products and services or refocus the way they operate. Many businesses closed doors, others went into survival mode but some flourished. We had a balanced product portfolio, where our services carried on while software as a service took a hit.
From your experience, what are the core principles or values that guide a leader during uncertain times?
Belief in the future. You either give up and fail or you believe by doing small things to move forward, you will survive. I have seen many large businesses struggle when leaders become despondent. It trickles down into the organization reducing focus, productivity and service delivery.
How do you cultivate a culture of resilience and adaptability within your team? Can you share a practical example where this culture made a significant difference?
I think the best is not to set unrealistic expectations. I am not saying don't set big goals, but accept things can and will go wrong. By keeping your eyes on the North Star, you keep your direction and focus. But if things go wrong, you adjust. When employees embrace this attitude of flexibility, that issues and failure is not the end of the line, they work together and support each other to succeed.
Many aspiring leaders struggle with the fear of failure, especially when the path ahead is unclear. What strategies or mental frameworks have you developed to overcome this fear and embrace uncertainty as an opportunity?
I've realized everything is uncertain. We try to control things, but sometimes this leads to unnecessary stress and failure. Be flexible and try to look at things from a different perspective. Or ask someone you trust for their insights. If things really go south, then it is ok to feel sad. Just don't fall into a pity party. Accept that things happened and move on. Sometimes you need to shovel "manure" to clean the barn! I also think practices like meditation or just quiet time works. Go for a walk and get out of your environment. It helps to get perspective.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes leaders make during uncertain times? Can you offer a real-life example where recognizing and avoiding such a mistake led to success?
A few things I have observed at major clients include: 1. Lose focus - leaders start making knee-jerk decisions that are bad for their business 2. Micro manage - leaders start managing down and get into details of operations 3. Become passive - leaders become passive and don't deal with the issues at hand 4. Don't communicate - leaders become secretive which undermined employee trust We had a major client who lost significant marketshare as their product mix didn't keep up with competitors. Their CEO felt if they kept course everything would workout. Some exco members didn't agree, which created undermining factions in top management. Some exco members introduced products misaligned to their brand, leading to a further decline in revenue. Employees heard rumours via the grapevine, but exco didn't communicate openly with them about the company's performance. You can image how quickly the top talent left, driving down productivity and morale.
Looking towards the future, how do you plan to continue evolving your leadership style to meet new uncertainties and challenges? What advice would you give to others looking to do the same?
I'd like to use more of my team's capabilities to widen our ability to deal with uncertainty. As a leader you set direction, but as a group there is significant knowledge and insights that one can use.
You've clearly demonstrated a willingness to learn and grow through experience. Are there any books, mentors, or resources that have particularly influenced your leadership style? How would you recommend others to approach their leadership development journey?
I really enjoined the Culture Code. I also read various articles in HBR, Stanford, MIT and other key publications.